Choosing Quality Child Care
Visiting the program:
Try to arrange for your child to be cared for by another person when making an initial visit to a number of centres or caregivers as this experience can be confusing to a young child. When you have narrowed your choices, taking your child with you can be very helpful.
The Day Nurseries Act requires all centres to describe their program philosophy in writing. When choosing a child care centre you should ask to see the written statement of philosophy, a daily/weekly program plan, and a menu plan. Viewing these documents will enable you to assess whether the program is compatible with your child's routines, likes and needs.
In a licensed centre, program policies are set by the Board of Directors (in a non-profit program) or by the owner/operator (in a commercial program). The director or supervisor of the centre oversees the staff, plans and directs programs, and generally sets the tone or atmosphere of a centre in accordance with the policies. Licensed home child care policies will likely be a combination of those of the agency and the caregiver's personal philosophy. Independent caregivers set policy according to their personal philosophy and preference.
For each interview and visit, it is important to spend enough time and to think about the way you were welcomed and how your questions were answered. Spend time talking with the staff or caregiver who will be working with your child and be sure to observe the program for long enough to get a clear impression. Make notes during the interview and the observation to help you to decide between your options.
Throughout the interview, make your questions specific and direct. For example, instead of asking a general question about what happens when your child misbehaves, focus on a specific example and ask, "What would you do if my child hit another child?" The answer to this kind of question will likely give you a better idea of the values and practices of the centre or caregiver.
Try to visit at a busy time, such as lunch and stay as long as possible. If you can, visit more than once, choosing a different time of day on the second visit. Observe the relationship between the children and their caregiver. It is very important. Parents should look for caregivers who are enthusiastic and caring, and who have a sense of humour and a positive attitude. Formal training in child development is a positive factor for good quality care. Groups of children who are relaxed, cheerful and busy and who approach and communicate with adults and other children are a positive indicator.
Take note of whether there are plenty of toys and learning materials at the child's level. Observe the noise level. The children should sound happy and involved. The adult should be patient and cheerful - talking to the child at his/her eye level. A setting that seems either excessively noisy or too quiet might indicate a problem.
If you are a parent with children 6 to 12 years of age who attend school for a half day or full day, you may require school age care. This is usually offered before and after school, and sometimes during the lunch period. School age care may be provided right in your child's school, in a child care centre, or through a home child care agency or independent caregiver. Care for school aged children, while still providing consistent supervision, should include opportunities for older children to be more independent in their choice of activities, reflecting their increasing skills and widening interests. Some programs offer summer camps which support school aged children as they continue to develop independence, self-esteem and social skills.
After each visit to a child care centre or caregiver, making notes about both positive and negative impressions will help when you make your final decision. Pay particular attention to health and safety aspects, and your instinct about whether you and your child will be comfortable, happy and confident with the arrangement.